MMO bearing the Cryptic Studios name is bound to have a staggering
amount of customization options available to players. But what happens
when you take that core concept and extend it far beyond the cosmetic
and fully into the realm of functional mechanics? Thanks to a
robust alien creation tool, upcoming href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/117"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online
could very well raise the bar in terms of href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/63231" target="_blank">cosmetic
options, but character
customization doesn’t end there, not by a long shot. Ten Ton
Hammer recently sat down with executive producer Craig Zinkievich to
discuss ship customization, learning some interesting details about the
impact of bridge officers along the way.
Ton Hammer: Will ship
customization in STO be as extensive as what we’ve seen with
character customization, or is it a separate type of system that
players will build on over time rather than work through up front as
with the race creation tools?
Zinkievich, executive producer for Star Trek Online.
Zinkievich – Executive Producer, Star Trek Online:
It’s not the same level of customization as the alien creator
is. As a kind of general overview, there are over a dozen different
classifications or configurations are what we call them, of ships
within the game. So you have your basic Miranda type, your Akira
configuration, your Galaxy configuration. The customization within
these configurations – it’s actually pretty awesome
what the ship guys have been able to do – the different
nacelles, the pylons which are the things the nacelles attach to, the
different bridges, the saucers to the actual materials that you put on
it such as the windows you choose or the color detail around the ship.
But the goal within a configuration is to make sure that
there’s a great amount of customizability so that the player
can feel like they’ve made what their ship looks like, but so
that another player looking at somebody’s ship can say,
“I know what configuration that is, I know what ship that is,
I know how powerful that guy is.” So generally
you’ll know what role that ship is playing whether or not
it’s more of a support role, or whether it’s more
of a DPS role you can kind of tell that by looking at
Now, based on all of the style="font-style: italic;">other
aspects of the ship that
aren’t cosmetic; what weapons you’ve slotted, what
systems you have on board, how your deflector dish is configured, what
bridge officers you have on your bridge – that really, really
narrows down what role you’re going to end up playing, what
powers you end up having and really what sort of subclass you have.
So there’s the cosmetic customization which is style="font-style: italic;">really
and then there’s the functional customization that, within a
configuration of a ship, you can really bend and specify how you end up
using that ship.
Ton Hammer: So
you’d still walk away with a ship that’s highly
personalized, but at the same time another player wouldn’t be
completely clueless as to what configuration it is if they square off
with you in combat.
Ton Hammer: In terms of how
players gain access to ship customization options, is that something
you’ll gain over time through general gameplay? Could you
explain a bit how that end of customization works?
Zinkievich: On the cosmetic
side vs. the functional side; one of the cool things about the way style="font-style: italic;">Star Trek Online
is being put together is that the items, the weapons, the panels that
you put into your ship, what sort of systems you have online
– those also allow the player a lot of customization within
the career that they’ve picked, or the configuration of their
ship. We want to make sure that the things that are long term choices
like the player’s career or what ship they’ll be in
for a while – there’s a lot of ability for the
players themselves to choose how that’s going to act.
With the major careers in the game being Engineering, Science and
Tactical, you could say, “Oh man, there’s only 3
classes in the game, how boring is that?” But we’ve
purposefully made them really, really wide in how they function. So
within those classes, or within your career choices there’s
so much that you can explore. The player can say, “Look,
I’m really going to try to learn style="font-style: italic;">these
skills or really try
to push myself in style="font-style: italic;">this
direction and maybe it’ll work or
maybe it won’t. If it doesn’t I’ll just
go learn these
skills now and play style="font-style: italic;">this
So on the ship side to go back to your original question, when you
customize the functionality of your ship – all of the items,
the weapons, the systems, how you slot your warp core – all
of the functional things, you can look at that as kind of normal loot
within a game. Those are the things you can get from Starfleet, or that
you can find from that really cool advanced alien race that you did a
favor for and they give you that really special warp core. All of those
things open up throughout the game.
On the cosmetic side, there are some things that we are putting
throughout the game. So say you did this big task or fleet action,
you’ll get this special thing for your ship. But Cryptic
really likes to allow as much cosmetic customization to the player, to
give that away for free as much as possible. People really, really
enjoy that. The majority of the cosmetic customization is kind of open
to the player when they get that configuration of ship.
Ton Hammer: Players are
naturally going to try and create their own races, or recreate that one
really obscure race. With the cosmetic customization for ships, will
there be ways for them to make a ship that helps distinguish their race
a bit more from a cosmetic standpoint?
Zinkievich: I think those
players will be able to do some things, but definitely at first release
the two major factions are going to be the Klingons and the Federation.
So the majority of the ships that the Federation players will be flying
and customizing will still look very Starfleet. We don’t want
to make it so that you can go in and customize the ships to the extent
that you have the Oscar Mayer Weiner Bus flying in space. It still is
very Starfleet, very Federation.
On the Klingon side I think there’s a little bit more
freedom, because you have the Klingons, the Gorn, the Orion –
you have a few more races that have their “look”
that can be played with. But you’re definitely not making
crazy crazy, you’re staying within the military that you are.
officer selection adds another layer of depth to ship customization.
Ton Hammer: With the bridge
crew, how large of an influence do they have on the overall abilities
of a given ship class? Do they reflect the innate abilities of the
ship, or enhance them? How will that relationship work?
Zinkievich: It’s an
interesting, parasitic relationship between the ship and the bridge
crew. One of the things that the ship configuration defines are how
many of what type of bridge officers can be on that ship when
you’re in space flying that ship. You’ll have your
stable of guys, but which ones are active or which ones are actually on
the bridge is specified by the configuration or class of your ship.
Having said that, the coolest powers that are in the game currently for
me are bridge officer powers, the things that your bridge officer has.
You ask your Worf to line up the photon torpedo spread, you ask your
Data to realign your deflector dish to send energy pulses back at the
person who’s attacking you. So it feeds upon itself
– the ship defines what sort of officers you can have on the
bridge or what kind of permutations you can have, but then your
officers really affect the way that your ship functions.
So if you get a more escort class ship, you’ve got more
tactical guys, you’ve got more pew-pew. If you’ve
got a science ship you probably have more seats for science officers on
the bridge, and so the science guys can actually bring their really
cool skills to the ship.
Ton Hammer: Do you think
that’s an area min/maxers are going to really get into?
What’s really cool, going back to the customization,
it’s like, OK, I got this science ship that has those extra
science stations, and maybe I’m a science officer
so that would be really, really specializing. But then I have 4 or 5
science officers in my stable that I’ve really worked on
– who am I going to slot today? Who am I going to use today?
How do I feel like playing my role today? It’s actually
really exciting and cool.
Ton Hammer: So far, what
would you say is the coolest part of ship combat, or what aspect have
you been enjoying the most?
Zinkievich: I think the
positional aspect of ship combat is really, really cool. In team play
it adds another order of magnitude to the strategy that’s
available. Knowing that, say let’s all go to the port side
and maybe your third guy’s got his photon torpedo
salvo lined up and ready to unload is just waiting and trying to get to
that side to bring down the shields. That sort of cooperation or
synchronization within teams I think is really awesome.
In terms of game development, it’s neat how every once in a
while you find gameplay in things that you didn’t mean for
gameplay to show up in. In space your sensors definitely can see much
farther than you can engage, and there’s that sort of
‘engage’ range where you know what the range of
your weapons are, you know what range the enemy’s weapons are
and how far away they are. So there’s that sort of
‘hundred units’, that little bit of time right
before you’re actually in combat where you’re
really analyzing how they’re situated, what ships they have
or what configuration they’re coming at you with.
You’re lining all your power up to go into combat.
It’s that breath before the plunge that’s become
actually really exciting in the game, and we never planned on it or
expected that to be a big aspect of it. But it’s how the
whole team, in that very short period of time kind of figures out what
they’re about to do, get their ships all configured in a way
that goes into this next battle and then goes in. That, to me, is
something that just came out of the blue and is a really exciting part
of the game.
Ton Hammer: Is it possible to
lose a ship in combat? Or is there a threshold in terms of how much
damage a ship can sustain before you’d lose it entirely?
Zinkievich: I think that
you’ll be able to blow up the other ship, but that
doesn’t mean that your ship will be a total loss. We
don’t want to get to the point where you spend hours and
hours and hours refining and finally getting this ship, then having it
blown out of the water so that you’d have to go through all
of that again. So with ships I think that’s a place
we’ve maybe broken reality a little to the point where you
explode, it’s huge and really fantastic but then you go,
“OK, let me go back and I’ll respawn. I lost that
system, that system got totally destroyed and the durability on some of
my weapons is hurt.” But you’re not going to go,
“Oh my God I went AFK and I came back and my Galaxy craft was
gone, gone, gone!” So yea, we don’t want that.
I mean, it adds something to a game – I remember times in EVE
when I’d be teamed up with someone and they’d say,
“Hey, do you like my new freighter?” And
they’d accidently attack me and the police would come and
destroy his 80 million credit freighter. I remember those times, so it
adds something to games, but it’s not really an experience we
want in STO.
will offer a high degree of symbiosis between ships, bridge officers
Ton Hammer: Will the bridge
crew play a role in effecting repairs on your ship, or will you have to
find specific places where you can dock and handle repairs from there?
definitely docking stations where you’ll do repairs, but also
– it’s not your bridge officers per se, although
some of the bridge officers have skills to help you repair your ship
and do hull repairs. But it’s your ships greater crew that
does that, and kind of the makeup of that crew that helps you repair
your ship outside of combat.
Ton Hammer: Going back to the
ship configurations a bit, you’d mentioned that there are a
dozen different configurations; will there be somewhat of a direct or
predetermined path players will take in terms of advancement from one
ship class to the next? So for example, will players start out with a
smaller ship and advance along a set path, or will there be points
where a given player might decide to go in a different direction in
terms of which ships they obtain?
Zinkievich: There is a
progression in terms of advancement for the ships, but
there’s also a whole lot of choice across the board. There
are different roles that the ships take, and also there’s
lines where going from one class to the next class that opens up to you
once you get skilled to open up that ship – how much that
previous ship is effective depending on how you have it outfitted,
there’s not a clean line where it’s like
“OK, get out of that ship because it’s useless to
I’m not going to say that you can take the very first ship
that you’ll have in the game and use that all the way until
you’re an admiral, but you can actually pull it along much
further after you’ve opened up other ships. So you can keep
that ship much longer rather than there being any kind of clean line.
Ton Hammer: So between the
different ship configurations and the separate career paths, two
different players can start out in roughly the same place, but
ultimately end up in two very different places based on advancement
Zinkievich: Definitely. If
they took the same career choice, that doesn’t mean that
they’ll end up in the same ship by any stretch of the
imagination. They could really end up anywhere with the ship, and
because the career choices are so broad, they could end up playing to
totally different games. What really makes up who that player is, what
role they play in the game is a combination of their career choice,
what skills they’ve chosen within that career choice, what
ship they’re flying, the bridge officers that they have, the
equipment that their ship have and that their bridge officers have. So
there are a whole lot of customization elements and a lot of different
routes that players can go based on what they choose for any of those
Ton Hammer: Are the bridge
officers another of the customization elements that players will
acquire throughout various aspects of normal gameplay?
You’ll pick up different members as you play, or
you’ll run across unique alien races that have unique, cool
skills that you can’t get any other way. And whether or not
you take one of those guys and recruit him into Starfleet or whether
you ask him to train one of your bridge officers in those skills is
really up to you. I mean, you don’t want to start off with
Spock and then have to cut Spock loose just because you found some phat
loot. So you’ll be able to train up your bridge officers.
Some people don’t care, but personally I do – the
attachment to the bridge officers is a big part of the game.
But the skills that they learn, the bridge officers will level up those
skills. You get points that you’ll spend to say, look with
this guy I want style="font-style: italic;">this
skill to be better.
They rank up along with you,
so you have to promote them throughout the game. So there’s a
lot of advancement for your bridge officers as well as you.
Ton Hammer: It definitely
sounds as though there’s a lot of symbiosis between the
ships, bridge officers and player characters.
Zinkievich: Yep, it all comes
together to really define what role you’re going to play
based on all of those things.
Ton Hammer: Well Craig,
thanks for taking the time to talk with us!
Zinkievich: No problem! Thank
you very much; it’s been a whole lot of fun to do this!
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